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The Bull from the Sea (Theseus #2)

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,346 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
The Bull from the Sea is the sequel to Mary Renault's The King Must Die ('58). The story is a retelling of the life of mythological hero Theseus after his return from the Minoan palace of Knossos. The novel follows his later quests, his friendship with Pirithoos, his liaison with Hippolyta & marriage to Phaedra.
Theseus returns to Athens along with the other Athenian
hardcover, 343 pages
Published 1962 by Pantheon Books
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Apr 24, 2013 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

Mary Renault’s _The Bull from the Sea_ takes up where The King Must Die left off and continues the legendary story of Theseus and his kingship of Attica. There are some differences between this volume and its predecessor, most notably in the fact that the scope of this tale is much broader. Whereas the first volume concentrated primarily on Theseus’ youth and time in the bull ring of Crete and covered the time involved in a fair amount of detail, this volume is much more a précis of man
Lucinda Elliot
Jan 15, 2013 Lucinda Elliot rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: women who need to be reminded why feminism is necessary!
Recommended to Lucinda by: A women cyber friend. Yes, well...
Shelves: never-read-again
I previously expressed deep concern about Mary Renault's internalised misogyny in my reviews of Renault's Theseus novels.

While finding them brilliantly researched and evocative, I also considered them to be permeated by scorn for women to the point where I was concerned that the author seemed almost to collude in Theseus various acts of brutality towards women (ie, his contemplated rape of 'Persephone' the matriarchal Queen, his his smugness about his destruction of matriarchy, his brutal threat
Lisa (Harmonybites)
My introduction to Mary Renault was The King Must Die, the first of two novels about Theseus--it was actually assigned reading in high school. What impressed me so much there was how she took a figure out of myth and grounded him historically. After that I quickly gobbled up all of Renault's works of historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The two novels about Theseus and the trilogy centered on Alexander the Great are undoubtedly her most famous of those eight novels.

This book is the sequel t
Mary Renault’s The Bull from the Sea, published in 1962, is a modern retelling of the legend of the Greek hero Theseus. Renault was deeply influenced by Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and by Frazer’s theories of all religions being based on an original fertility cult that involved a sacrifice of a king. These days Frazer’s work is regarded with much greater scepticism, but it has to be aid that it was the inspiration for some superb and enthralling historical fiction. She was also influence ...more
The sequel to The King Must Die, this book picks up almost exactly where the last book ends. It covers the rest of the legend of Theseus, combining the original legend with Renault's blend of imagination and historical research.

This is probably the weakest of Renault's books that I've read. The pacing of the book - cramming most of the life of one of Greece's most famous legendary heroes into less than 250 pages - means that Renault was always going to need a strong and clearly defined character
The Bull from the Sea is quite similar to The King Must Die, and is an immediate sequel to it. I started it with less hope than I began The King Must Die, and ended up skimming most of it because I just don't like Theseus -- I don't like his self-justifications, his treatment of women, his self-absorption... If we're meant to like him, Mary Renault has failed, in my view.

Is he realistic, for his time period, does he match with what I know of the myth? Yes, I'd say. And Mary Renault's attention t
Oct 16, 2015 Jane rated it liked it
Sequel to Renault's The King Must Die, this is her retelling of the further story of Theseus. He returns to Athens, claims his throne, lifelong friendship with Pirithoos, liaison with Hippolyta and birth of their son, Hippolytus, marriage with Phaedra, her attempted betrayal and murder. Then Theseus breaks off his narrative right before his death on the island of Skyros. Very enjoyable, but I didn't feel it was quite up to Renault's usual standard, just a continuation of the Theseus myth.
Tiffany Reisz
May 07, 2015 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gorgeous heartbreaking book. Renault was a new-to-me author and now I want to read her forever.
Mar 24, 2015 Caleb rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommend to: No one
Recommended by: Goodreads ratings

The book in two words: nothing special.

Renault appropriates the style of Homer for a tale lacking in the emotionality or complexity of the Iliad or the Odyssey.

The book is full of one-line aphorisms from Theseus, bludgeoning the reader with supposed wisdom from a hothead king whose main virtue is regret. The author's style apes the crude and violent manner in which the protagonist achieves his aims, and makes the book a trial to complete.

At it
Sep 13, 2014 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt that this book was less successful than The King Must Die, but also that it tries to tell a more complicated story. It seems strange to me that Renault did not divide her treatment of the Theseus myth into three books rather than two. At the end of The King Must Die, Theseus is still a teenager; The Bull from the Sea picks up exactly where that book leaves off and must carry him all the way to his death. There is so much crammed in here--his early kingship in Athens, the capture of Hippol ...more
Sep 25, 2007 bkwurm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sequel to the King Must Die. It starts from Theseus’ arrival in Athens where he learns of his father’s suicide as a result if his failure to sail with white sails. The author follows the same formula used in her earlier book, that of following the storyline set out in the myth but with plausible real life explanations for the mythical aspects.

As a book, this is weaker than the first book primarily because it lacks a strong central storyline, being little more than a collection of These
Carole Hazell
Dec 30, 2015 Carole Hazell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Re-reading some Mary Renault following my first visit to Athen & Crete...approx 50 years since first reading, extensively, Renault's Greek oeuvre.
This confirms her status as a superb researcher, authority on & writer of Greek mythology & history in the historical novel genre, not one of my favourite genres, but in Renault's hands the stories are almost perfect. She is a master of characterisation, setting, dialogue, social history, & this story of Theseus is no exception. Must re
Jan 11, 2016 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(FROM MY BLOG) Theseus was one of the great legendary Greekheroes. Much of what we know of Greek civilization comes from Athenian writers, and Theseus was to Athens what Romulus was to Rome. He inherited a small kingdom -- really not much more than the Acropolis itself -- from his father, and by force and by diplomacy, he forged a united kingdom out of all the tiny villages that stretched across the plain ofAttica.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed certain aspects of Mary Renault's historical re
Karen Witzler
Jul 09, 2014 Karen Witzler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Found this copy while packing to move and picked up the story right where I'd left it thirty years ago at the end of The King Must Die. Great first half, good ending, drags in the middle as Renault force-fits all mythic events associated with Theseus into the time-frame. Loved the Centaurs and the early return of the heroes section.
Roman Clodia
Jun 09, 2016 Roman Clodia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This follows on from The King Must Die, which begins Renault's epic and yet overwhelmingly human re-telling of the Theseus myth.

The first book tells the story of a young man: this sequel is much darker. Here Theseus tries to re-capture his lost youth in the bull-ring of Knossos before realising that that is an impossibility. Restless, he allows his friend Peirithous to talk him into a pirate expedition where they encounter the Amazons and Theseus falls in love.

The love affair/marriage between hi
Jed L
Oct 21, 2014 Jed L rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second, and last, book in the Theseus series is nearly as good as the first. Renault continues in this installment to write an engrossing and completely believable narrative for the legendary and mythical Theseus. This book picks up right where the first left of. To start Renault does a good job of gently reminding her audience of where the plot stands and of names and locations from the previous novel without beating them over the head or leaving them completely in the dark. This to me is a ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reread this retelling of the later years of the Greek hero Theseus after 35 years. It really holds up. Of course, I can relate to the poignancy of the hero's aging better now. Renault's language is beautiful, and her ancient-Greek-world-building is top-notch.
Sep 18, 2015 Nigel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Continuing the story of Theseus after his return from Crete, ascending to the throne of Athens upon his father's death, this is the tale of an heroic life lived large and bold and self-assured. A model of manly behaviour, balancing the duties of kingship and an inerrant sense of fair play and justice with a desire for adventure that takes him on pirating voyages with his friend, Pirithoos. He carefully forges a stable kingdom and yet roams near and far in search of glory and plunder. One such vo ...more
Jul 03, 2016 Anna-Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dearest
I've always hated Theseus. And yet I bought and read both books of Mary Renault's Theseus duology. Why? Because she obviously doesn't like him either.

This (short) series is a very innovative take on a mythological retelling, despite being written more than fifty years ago. The supernatural and divine plays a central role, at least from the main character's point of view, but its existence is never actually confirmed. Whatever influence is attributed to the gods, can almost always be explained wi
Libri &
Aug 17, 2015 Libri & rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Il ritorno di Teseo è un romanzo storico di Mary Renault. Un classico intramontabile della letteratura che ha come protagonista principale il mitico sovrano di Atene, Teseo. Il libro narra le vicende di Teseo che, dopo aver ucciso il Minotauro, diventa re di Atene. Appena salito in carica è costretto ad affrontare un manipolo di pirati guidati da Piritoo, che alla fine degli eventi diventa suo amico fidato e sincero. Ma le peripezie non terminano con le battaglie marittime.

Continua a leggere su
Ann Schwader
Oct 13, 2014 Ann Schwader rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This immediate sequel to The King Must Die is another full-immersion experience of heroic Greece, with a lyrical first-person narrative to match. In retelling the rest of Theseus’s life (i.e., his post-bull-dancing days), Renault again tackles the problem of making her protagonist sympathetic while keeping him true to his time.

For the most part, she succeeds brilliantly. Reading the latter part of Theseus’s life is like attending a Greek tragedy: you know what’s going to happen, you know on some
Sue Frederick
In her bestselling novels published in the 1950s and ‘60s, Mary Renault recaptured, in lilting and simple prose, the world of ancient Greece, re-telling the myths of gods and heroes and the histories of kings and queens. Mary Renault only visited Greece twice, yet eight of the novels she is best remembered for are set in Ancient Greece. They are the foundation of her reputation as a historical novelist. Renault breathed life into a mythic period of history, and her starting point was always a hu ...more
Christopher Hansen
I greatly enjoyed this book. It surprises me a little that a piece of fiction this beautiful is not more widely popular.

Like its prequel, The King Must Die, this book is a partial retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus. The story is unique in that the author reframes the supernatural events of the original story in a way that makes natural causes plausible. Theseus himself continues to believe in the gods, but instead of worshiping them he blames them for his misfortunes.

The story is also remark
Lori Schafer
The first book of Mary Renault's that I read was The Mask of Apollo, a fascinating account of an ancient Greek actor who, in the course of his travels, manages to participate in the great - and now largely forgotten - events of his day. Although I had not read the first book in the Theseus series, since I happened to have The Bull from the Sea in my collection, I jumped on it as soon as I was done with Renault's other book. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The story is strong enough, and the wr ...more
Feb 24, 2011 Iset rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Iset by: No one
As in this book's prequel, we are thrown right into the middle of the action from the word go, but because "The Bull from the Sea" is a sequel to "The King Must Die", as readers we find our feet immediately, having read the events of "The King Must Die" and knowing instantly the situation in which Theseus finds himself. Once again, the book is told in first person, from Theseus' point of view - clearly he is recollecting his own past, but nothing is given away about how events will eventually un ...more
You know you're a classics nerd when: Socrates (via Plato) gets quoted and you clap like a happy hobbit.

Chock-full of cameos. I mean, I was happy when Procrustes showed up but then so did Oedipus and Jason, the latter was especially hilarious.

Theseus: Dude, what's wrong with you?
Jason: I was cursed by this crazy witch lady.
Theseus: Was her name Madea?

But the best of all (and here come book spoilers) (view spoiler)
Rick Davis
(Note: As I also said when I reviewed The King Must Die, pagans act like pagans in this book. If you've read Suetonius you should be fine.)

A while back I posted a review of a historical fiction book that just didn’t work. I am happy to have something now to compare it to in order to show how historical fiction ought to work. The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault is excellent. Last year I read The King Must Die which told the story of the legendary Theseus growing up as a young man in Troizen, le
Dec 15, 2012 Serena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't a love story. It isn't supposed to be; nor is it supposed to have a happy ending. This is supposed to be a sort of biography of a ancient hero, and the reality of the myths he is featured in. I would say that his feelings for women, and his actions toward them, show a eerie mirror toward how they treated with him and men.

I'm not sure I agree with this supposedly Greek religion where women leading Goddess-Queen worship against King-Consorts every season to die; certainly there were ro
It is rare for me to take to a book so quickly. Not that I start off ready for dislike or anything but only that really good beginnings are tough. But "The Bull from the Sea" took me immediately with the second paragraph: "I sprung ashore and grasped both hands full of Attic earth. It stuck to my palms as if it loved me." To me it seemed a quite reverence of tone and a kindness to the rough exterior of quick, sharp sentences. And this is exactly what Theseus is like; everything is taken in by th ...more
Chris Gager
Apr 09, 2012 Chris Gager rated it really liked it
Just got started last night but already Theseus has disposed of the Bull of Marathon(the title bull). Many adventures await as well as his ultimate fate. As was foretold... So now he's met and taken Hyppolyta and put off Phaedra. The description of his Amazon/Scythian lover reminds me of Libby Riddles, a former Iditarod musher from years ago. In the SI article about her there was a picture of her naked from behind waistupwards. Scary beautiful... As we know, Theseus will be paying a price for hi ...more
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Mary Renault was an English writer best known for her historical novels set in Ancient Greece. In addition to vivid fictional portrayals of Theseus, Socrates, Plato and Alexander the Great, she wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander.

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander
More about Mary Renault...

Other Books in the Series

Theseus (2 books)
  • The King Must Die (Theseus, #1)

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